Hacking Your Way to a Cheaper Tomorrow

In the near future, when and how you consume will depend on how much you’re willing to pay.

My roommate Andre calls me early. She wakes me from my slumber, even though the sun is already streaking through my curtains. “Hey!” she says, “I’m in line for a ride-share car downstairs and prices surge in 15 minutes. Want me to wait for you?”

I roll over, check the day’s price index, and grumble a thankful if sleepy “yes” before tumbling back into the sheets. This is a fitting start to the day, as I prepare to report on an unconventional demo day held in the workspace of inventor and entrepreneur, Jamie Moises. Moises is the leader of ACME-Nuevo, a pop-up cooperative creating products that respond to the ebb and flow of dynamic pricing.

I discovered ACME-Nuevo after buying it’s first product, the Power Forager. I peek outside and note that my first-gen model has set up on my balcony, opting to solar charge my appliances rather than searching out a low-cost power station around town, like it normally does. The Forager saves me a good chunk of change — allowing me to avoid the Vice Tax on new gadgetry and charge when energy is cheap.

While you’re asleep, the Power Forager roams the city streets looking for charging stations during off-peak hours. After charging its fuel cells at a station in an ebb zone hotspot, the Forager returns home to power up the household’s appliances for the day. On a full battery, the Forager can also power appliances outdoors. Andre often brings it to Dolores Park on the weekend , along with a cooktop and toaster, to enjoy brunch al fresco.

I’m not just leaving the cost cutting to my devices, though. Over time I’ve perfected hacks to my daily routine: waking up an hour earlier to shower when hot water is more affordable, pre-purchasing a week’s worth of coffee to avoid peak pricing, and parking a few blocks away from home to avoid meter spikes in my neighborhood. Today, I get a sneak peek into some of the cost-saving designs of tomorrow.

I take one last gulp of coffee and bolt downstairs. On my way out the door I strap a textile battery onto my shoe, so I can capture the energy I create over the course of the day.

This Peak Saver Battery affixes to your shoe, and charges off your movement throughout the day. It can then be used to power smaller devices during peak energy periods.

The ACME-Nuevo Workshop is located in a large warehouse in Potrero Hill, and when I arrive, the the garage doors yawn open to reveal a small group of fellow journalists who wander among coders, designers, engineers, and other 1099ers — freelance employees (nicknamed after the tax form they use) who make their own hours and work on their own terms.

Soon, Moises stands up from his desk, climbs onto an overturned crate and launches into his opening remarks. “I wanted to start today with my own story,” Moises says, hands in pockets. “I’m not a typical CEO. In fact, until a couple years ago, I worked as a plumber.”

Moises tells his story: how a side hobby of tinkering with appliances to make them more efficient quickly became his main source of income, as people began searching for smarter, better ways to increase the lifespan and functionality of their devices. But that wasn’t enough — he also saw a huge opportunity to help people forage for low-cost resources in the age of price fluxing.

“We’d identified a big public need,” Moises said, “but didn’t have enough brains or bodies to effectively meet it. So we turned ACME-Nuevo into a cooperative — a fellowship of workers and designers who set our own hours, respond to unmet needs in the market, and help people navigate surge pricing.”

As part of the cooperative model, the designs that come out of ACME-Nuevo are owned and directed by the individuals who dreamed them up, Moises says. Call it a crowdsourced, co-owned startup.

Over the course of Demo Day, we get a sneak peek at products that will join the likes of Peak Saver Batteries and the Power Forager later this year:

With drought as the new normal and surge electrical pricing, it can be hard finding the sweet spot for a nice hot shower. When attached to your hot water heater, Hotspell gives your tank some new tricks. It’ll kick on and shoot a message to your preferred channel (both externals and implants supported), letting you know that it’s time for a luxurious, impromptu shower. It will also motivate you to get warm-water chores done, like laundering whites, washing the dog, or putting some elbow grease into the floors.
When it’s time to conserve energy and water the dishwasher disappears, changing color and texture to blend in with neighboring cupboards. The sudsy magic behind the facade is hinted at by the bubbly perimeter. When it’s prime time to wash, the facade vanishes, revealing your trusty machine.
Ebb zoning brows cover your knobs and allow you to cook only during gas price dips. For hangry situations, you can always get a spurt of alternate power from the reserve outlet.

I’ve got my notes and a few contacts to follow up with for the story, so I grab a juice and packet of jerky and head out. Streetlights blink on beneath a tangerine sunset. My watch buzzes, alerting me that curb-zoning prices just ebbed nearby. The Street Meet food trucks will be showing up soon.

Maybe it’s a nudge, I think, to slow down a little and enjoy some unoptimized, disconnect time. I switch off, pull on my scarf, look up at the sky, and begin a leisurely stroll home.

Contributors: Anna Hartley, Greg Burkett, Shane Zhao, Emily Eisenhart, Melissa Richer, Lisa Baird, Brian Pelsoh, Alastair Warren, Bex Rad, and Shoshana Berger

This is part eight of Tomorrow in Progress from IDEO San Francisco. Tomorrow in Progress is a series that explores what the future of life in the Bay Area might be like in 10–15 years. It’s an outcome of Adventuring, a new capability we’re practicing, like Design Thinking, that examines futures, design fiction, and inhabitation.

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